Thursday, November 14, 2013

Trust is a four letter word

Trust. That is a word many of us struggle with. Can I trust this person with my valuables? Can I trust this person with my heart? But when you're dealing with a health crisis, such as cancer, and have to ask the question, "Can I trust this person with my life?", the stakes are raised immeasurably. 

There is no way to explain the anxiety I feel when I walk into my doctor's office. I carry with me not only my own hopes and fears, but also those of my son, my husband, my parents, my family and friends. The weight is enormous and, if not kept in check, can crush me. 

But I trust her. I made that choice when I took her on as my doctor two years ago. She is smart and thorough and innovative. She is everything you would want in a doctor. So, when her decision to be hyper-aggressive with the tumors that remain in my lungs was put into question by another doctor, I didn't doubt her for a moment. Until I did. We should question, right? Weigh the pros and cons, not head blindly down a path, be the copilot and not just a flight attendant handing out refreshments. Except sometimes you want mommy and daddy to handle everything. Those 'big girl pants' are overwhelming and you want to take shelter under the warm blanket until the monster is gone. 

Life doesn't work that way when you're an adult. Decisions must be made. This is where the trust comes in....but it's not in my doctor. It's the trust I have in myself to make the right decision. Because I am smart and thorough and can be quite innovative myself. You should see the way I 'MacGyver'' shit all over my house. I am everything you would want in a patient. 

I also trust in life; that it works out the way it should. I am learning the lessons I need to learn and am being guided down the path I am supposed to be on. I trust in that with my heart and soul. 

So, I made an informed decision and it's mine; right or wrong. I am the co-pilot where my health is concerned; assisted by an amazing crew, whom I trust almost as much as I trust myself.

Damn, my ass looks great in these 'big girl pants'.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Fuck It List

I didn't listen. If I had to choose three words to sum up most of my life it would be those. I didn't listen when I was told having a child so young would be a mistake. Or when they said going back to get my degree would be too hard. And when they told me I had 18 months to live? I didn't listen then either. Not listening is what I seem to do best.

So when I spread the word that I was creating my 'Fuck It' list, I waited for the inevitable naysayers to tell me I couldn't do it. "You're still undergoing treatment need your rest...are you sure this is the smart thing to do?" I heard them all; but I didn't listen. 

On my 'Fuck It' list are all of the things I've always wanted to do, places I've wanted to see, but never got around to doing it. About 2 months ago I said, "fuck it, what am I waiting for?" Cancer is a tricky bitch and made me acutely aware of the finite amount of time we are given. I'm just going to say it...we are all going to die eventually. Yes, even you, young, healthy person with the glowing complexion and bright eyes. It may be at 100, but 100 years isn't that long if you've only existed and never truly lived. 

I sent an email listing cities I wanted to visit all across this gorgeous country of ours. I figured domestic travel would be a better way of gauging my abilities. I may be a bit reckless, but I'm not an idiot. Of course, the kick ass group of friends I have responded immediately; picking cities and dates and the planning began. Portland, Oregon would be our first stop.

Joe drove me to the airport and, like a parent watching their kid leave for camp, he stood and waived; waiting until I was lost in the crowd before he left. Knowing him, I'm sure it took every ounce of strength he had not to say I was out of my mind and put his foot down on the whole thing. I love him for that. 6 hours later I met up with my friend in Portland and we began our adventure.

Oregon is an exquisitely beautiful state, with beaches and mountains, waterfalls and gorges. Plus, they have the best fucking donuts I have ever had in my life. Without an iota of shame or guilt, I stood at the counter of Voodoo Doughnuts, ordered seven and had a bite (or two) of each one. Jesus, it's a hidden gem of a place. Every day we planned something else, renting a car for day trips or hanging back and walking around to see all that Portland had to offer. And it had a lot to offer. I've heard that it is a town of hippies and hipsters, and can be obnoxiously self righteous. But this couldn't be further from the truth. Every one I met was super kind and generous with their time. It is a very artsy area so if you don't like artisanal cheeses or homemade goat's milk soaps, then this may not be your scene. But I was totally diggin' it. Organic Shea butter body lotions? Yes, please.

During several points in my trip, I had to stop and take it all in. I would close my eyes and feel the wind in my hair, the sun on my face or the soft rain roll off my cheeks. I felt blessed and grateful. I wish I could capture it all in a jar like a firefly and keep it with my always. I knelt down to pet every dog, smiled at every baby and chatted up whomever would lock eyes with me. I highly suggest doing any or all of those things. It is a sure fire way to bring a smile to your face. We traveled up Mt. Hood and watched the snow fall from a lovely, historic lodge we stumbled upon. It was cold as hell and I was woefully underdressed but I said fuck it once more and just went with it. I warmed up by the fireplace with a drink and a slice of pumpkin bread that made me moan...yes, I really moaned. Don't judge.

Sometimes in life you have to just go for it. Shake off the fear and do what scares the hell out of you. I was scared to travel alone, to be so far away from home and, more importantly, from Sloan. But I didn't give in. Call it what you want...Carpe Diem or Fuck It, but I plan on YOLO'ing the shit out of my life.

While waiting for my plane home, my friend and I spotted a man with no legs riding a skateboard around the terminal. We admired his enthusiasm then went back to talking about the trip. As I boarded the plane and looked for my seat, I realized I was sitting next to the skateboarding dude I saw moments before. I noticed that not only did he not have legs, he also was missing an arm. He smiled at me and we made idle chit chat; names, where we were from, etc. He helped me with the crossword puzzle I was working on and we ended up doing the second one together. He was from Portland and going to New York then to Orlando for business. I was so struck by his fortitude and kindness; the man just radiated light. When once I saw a man who was overcoming his adversities, now I just saw a man; a sweet, gentle man with kind eyes, a great laugh and a killer lexicon. I wondered how many times in his life did he not listen.

What did I learn on this trip? I learned to step out of my comfort zone. I learned we are all trying to overcome something. I learned we aren't all that different from one another.

This is it. This is our one shot at this life. Go for it, whatever 'it' is for you. Get on that fucking skateboard and ride. And don't ever, ever listen when someone tells you you can't.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The War

I hate the cliches of cancer. Words like "battle" and "war" and "soldier". But every cliche holds a germ of truth, doesn't it? Because as much as I shy away from the term, it is indeed a battle. Except we aren't fighting for oil, or religion or land. We are fighting for our lives. Every day, every moment. 
We adopt a soldier's mentality. We do what we have to do to get the job done. But at what cost? For some, the scars linger far after the war is over. For others still fighting, putting on that gear everyday becomes harder as the days turn into months then turn into years. And while we are thankful to still be alive, the fighting is taking its toll. 
I see cancer as a sniper; hiding, waiting, ready to attack. Sometimes there is silence and I relax a bit, forgetting for a moment that I'm in a war zone. Then a bullet flies by and I realize I'm under attack again. I need to make quick decisions with trembling hands and gripping fear. There is no room for error. I'm two years in; by now I know what needs to be done.
I look to my left and beside me is my friend, taken down so quickly I didn't have the chance to say goodbye. When I think about it, though, do any of us really get enough time to say goodbye? 
She fought for four years, enduring more than most can ever fathom. She did it with grace and humor, kindness and compassion. She guided me, taught me how to cope with this war, how to find beauty, even while walking through hell. She deserved the Medal of Honor for the fortitude she exhibited, an acknowledgement of her valor. 
I can't help but see myself in her. It could so easily have been me. But I know she would want me to carry on, to keep fighting until that sniper is but a distant memory. And that's what I will do to honor her life and the millions before her. We stand together as one.
For those who say we haven't won the war on cancer yet, I say I'm winning it every day I am alive.
Karin Diamond
Rest In Peace, my sweet friend

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

18 Years

I watch you get in your car and drive away. 
I stand in the doorway; coffee in hand, tears rolling down my face
You're heading off to college
Charging toward adulthood, letting go of my hand just a little bit more
In my mind you were just born, perfect and tiny.
Aunt Trish smiled through her tears when she held you up so that I could see
You were the most beautiful baby...and you were mine

Those first few weeks were so scary
I was so young and totally unprepared for what life just handed me
I wanted so badly to get it right; I'm sorry for the times I got it wrong

You're walking now; charging head first into everything
(I know now this will be the way you always do things!)
There is such a light in you, a sweetness
You draw people to you
Your smile, your laugh, your very presence bring me more joy than I've ever known
You're so smart
You force me to my knees to watch the ants carry food
(You're right, it is a pretty amazing thing to see)
We spend hours playing together and reading books by the lake
You give me Eskimo kisses at bedtime and plead with me to read the book just once more.
 I didn't always
How I wish I had

You're in school now
I see you waiting in line on your first day
Grandma and Grandpa are in the school yard with me as we watch you walk in
You smile as you turned around to wave goodbye
We cried as we walked to the car

Through the years, I have seen some of your friends come and go
Your clothes went from 'dragging on the floor' baggy
To jeans so tight I feared when you sneezed
Long hair, short hair
Piercings, tattoos
I've watched you grow and change and change some more

I wish I would have been easier on you
Let you be you
Had I known how amazing you would turn out to be,  maybe it would have been easier to let go
I doubt it though
I see how amazing you are now and it's hard as hell to let go

Your smile still gets me
I could be two rooms away but  if I hear you laugh, I laugh right along with you
Your 'I love you's' can carry me through the darkest of days

For 18 years I have loved you
And while I may no longer carry you in my arms
I will forever carry you in my heart
Know that you are loved, that you are special and that you'll always be mine
Happy birthday, my sweet, sweet boy


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Scabs and Scars and other Wounds

It could be a headline or an article or something that screams CANCER...I have to look. I must look. I must pick at the scab that is almost healing.

Inevitably, the article will be about someone who has died or was given a terminal diagnosis. Stop picking Goddammit! But it's too late. The scab is off and the blood is running. "This isn't me," I tell myself. But it doesn't matter. Once you have been diagnosed with cancer, everyone's story is your story. At least, that's how you can feel. 

Time passes, the scab turns into  yet another scar. Life continues. One day you're mindlessly going through your old voicemails, you know the ones you saved because they're so awesome and just make you smile? Yeah, those. And you hear your friend's voice and she's crying because she's so happy about your last scan results and she's saying , "It's over, you did it!!" And you're happy with her for that moment until you realize that voicemail was from November, before the recurrence and you sink so deeply into the chair you almost fold into yourself. And the scar bursts open and there are tears and hand trembles and you realize you've been rocking but can't recall when you started doing that. And you wonder how many times this is going to happen before you finally crack. You think about the last two years and how incredible they have been and how strong you've been and you think, "Can I maintain this?" And you answer yourself with a "Fuck Yeah!"  But there is that tremble again and you wonder if you're just slapping Band-Aids on a serious wound that maybe needs more help than you ever thought possible. You begin to curse the reiki session that cracked your soul wide open yesterday. Best to keep it all inside as to not get everything messy, right? But your soul aches for healing and is reaching in every direction for the one thing, the one word, the one crystal that will make it all better; where it will all make sense. So you keep searching. Because it's out there. You may die trying, but you'll find it and your wounds will close and you will finally be healed. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

No Bags Allowed!

Parties are always sources of great stress. There is menu planning, guest lists and always last minute shopping. But when a party is centered on something that truly means something to you, something that comes from your heart, the need to get everything 'just right' is intensified. 

On Saturday, I threw a 'Cancerversary' party. It was a recognition of two years of struggle, of ups and downs, disappointments and miracles. It was a celebration of the fact that I am still here; living and growing and grateful for each day. I invited people who mean something to me and are important parts of my life. Without their support, I can't imagine what these last few years would have been like. 

The day was going so well; despite the heat and imminent rain. The caterers were so on top of their game, I really didn't have to do much except mingle and dance and, at times, adjust the music volume. Most guests were either lounging in the pool or hanging around various corners of my backyard. There was an awesome energy floating around and I felt at peace.

As the evening was winding down and a few of my friends were preparing to leave, I decided that now would probably be the best time to say a few words of gratitude to those in attendance. How could I not? Some of them for two years rearranged their schedules to be with me, took trains every weekend to Long Island to sit with me, or checked in on me daily in some way. No words I could say could ever adequately explain the depth of love, admiration and gratitude I had for them. I lowered the music and began by saying, " I just want to take a moment to thank all of you for coming and I want you to know just how much you mean to me."  "CUT THE BULLSHIT AND JUST GET BETTER!!" Wait, what? Did I just get heckled at my own party? I nervously smiled and continued, "I hope you all know how much I love you. Because of your support, I got the chance to see my son graduate from high school." "ENOUGH WITH THE BULLSHIT AND JUST GET BETTER ALREADY, OK?" It was my uncle who kept interrupting me. So clearly uncomfortable with my display of emotion that he felt the need to try and shut me down. I didn't know what to do so I smiled and said, "I'm trying" then preceded to walk into the house, feeling so defeated and angry that I wanted to punch a wall. Every meditation, every sageing, every healing crystal in my possession did not stop the feeling of rage that welled up inside of me. Fuck! I walked into my room and closed the door.

Soon, there was a knock. It was my friend, a friend who literally has not left my side since the day of my diagnosis. She was enraged. "Bullshit?Who the fuck is he? I haven't seen him once at your house in two years and he's trying to tell you to cut your bullshit?" I could see how worked up she was getting. We sat and cried for two years of heartbreak. Two years of recovery and chemotherapy, hair loss, sickness and fear. Two years of clinging to each other just to hold on to our sanity. And then I understood. That outburst wasn't about me at all. It was all him and his weakness and his fear. What I faced scared the hell out of him and he didn't want a reminder of it. He didn't want to know of my strength because it reminded him of his weakness. I stopped being angry and felt empathy for someone so clearly hurting 

Someone else's reaction is never about you. They are bringing a lifetime of their baggage to your party. So I say my next party will not have a 'BYOB' on the invitation which can be misinterpreted as 'BringYour Own Baggage' but instead I'll have an 'LTSATD' (Leave That Shit At The Door). My bags are heavy enough without having to carry someone else's shit.

Party on and Namaste!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Happy Cancerversary!

What have I done in the last two years?
I haven't learned to cook
Or clean a house properly
I haven't house trained my dog fully
I can't throw a baseball, basketball or football
Or get my garage in order (although it's on the list)

So to answer the question what have I done, I will say this:
I've learned to love
I've broken down the wall I spent 35 years building
I've learned the past is done and guilt is a useless emotion
The future is mostly out of our control so stop worrying about it
It will be what it will be

I've learned that all we have is now
This time together
To love and to share and to connect
I won't waste it with petty, self damaging behavior
I choose to be the light and the love that lifts up those around me

I've learned that moments such as seeing my son walk across the stage to accept his diploma are the exact ones that have kept me fighting for my life.
I want more of them.

I've learned profound gratitude 
I've learned what it feels like to be deeply loved by someone
Not because this is the first time I've been loved, but it's the first time I've accepted it.

I don't take each new day for granted.
When I awake every morning I say a prayer of thanks; for the people in my life, for the healing that has occurred within me, for another day of learning and sharing.

2 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. 2 years ago my life crumbled all around me. But here I am; stronger, more compassionate, happier than I ever thought I could be.
Funny how life works, huh?

Tonight, whether we are together or not, I ask that you raise a glass and toast to life and living and love. I hold you all in my heart and I thank you.

Monday, June 17, 2013

There's Always A But...

For my son, Sean

Life is unpredictable 
At times it will knock you down
and just when you think you've regained your footing; 
it will knock you down again
But don't ever give up
Because sometimes you will win
Cherish those moments
But honor the losses too,
You might find you've learned the most from them

Life can be cruel or it can be glorious
You get to decide which

Listen to your inner voice
Follow your dreams
And don't let anyone decide for you how far you can go in life
Only you get to make that decision

Take risks
Push boundaries
And fight for what you believe in
But don't ever be a bully

Laugh as often as you possibly can
Seek the humor in everything
But do it with a kind heart

Love as many people as your heart will allow
By the way, the heart has no limits
Believe in yourself
But let go of beliefs that don't serve your higher self
Always strive to be your highest self

Remember life is an adventure
Enjoy the ride for as long as you can
Grow to appreciate criticism
Hate nothing
Learn from everything
Whatever you do, do it with passion and integrity 
Go boldly into the world
You have no limits

Friday, May 31, 2013

Speak Your Truth...

Truth. It's such a big word. It strikes fear in the hearts of liars; and we're all liars, aren't we? We may be honest about our taxes, honest when we are undercharged at the grocery store, and honest with our opinions on whether the blue or the red tie looks better. But, it's the lies we tell ourselves that are most dangerous. I'm happy. I'm satisfied. I don't deserve more than I have. We dare not speak the truth, because then we would need to do something about it. Instead we let fear wash over us, cripple us and turn us into liars.

Today in the shower I had an epiphany. Speak your truth kept repeating in my head. My body felt so tense, as if every 'it's ok' and 'if that's what you want' coiled around each muscle, depleting it of oxygen. I sat on the tub floor and, with the water pouring over me, I loudly said the word TRUTH allowing whatever needed to be said to follow.

TRUTH: I am scared of cancer
TRUTH: I need more than I am getting right now
TRUTH: I am allowed to end relationships on my terms
TRUTH: I have the right to ask more of the people in my life
TRUTH: I am still holding onto anger. 

This went on for some time, and when I stopped, when I couldn't think of any more truths that I had hidden, I let it go. I was free from the lies.

Next, I threw my desires out to the universe. Authentically, boldly I detailed the life I wanted and the quality of the people in it. Friends who challenge my view of the world, elevate me and who are so close to me, they've become family. Family I can rely on.

When are words no longer just words? When they become actions. When we live them, breathe them. I will no longer settle, because settling, no matter how many times I lie to myself that it’s enough, will never do. It will always cause pain; a dull aching that never quite goes away, even if it sometimes falls into the recesses of my mind..

We are all afraid. How we push through that fear is what defines us. Do we allow it to paralyze us into total immobility, making us stuck in our situations?   Do we become bitter and angry? Or do we look fear in the face and say "I just don't care"? We get to decide. But first we must speak our TRUTH. 

Even as I watch my words circle the drain and wash away, I know my truth is always inside of me; waiting to be spoken, waiting to be lived.

Monday, May 20, 2013


She's a real beauty
That's what everyone says when they see her
Perfectly polished, she catches the eye of all who pass by  
But there is something they can't see
She was badly hurt not too long ago
Someone banged her up pretty good
It took awhile but she was pieced back together
Good as new, they told us
But as soon as I was alone with her, I knew something was wrong
Nothing can survive that sort of trauma without some internal shifting
It's in the way she drifts off now 
Like she's lost her direction
There is a faint humming noise that was never there before. 
Most people don't notice it.
But I do
I know her well
She used to roar like a lion. 
The two of us like one on the road
Now she hesitates.
Afraid to be bold like she was
I guess that's what happens after you've been damaged, taken apart and put back together. 
Pieces are replaced. Some omitted all together.
I keep taking her back to be repaired but they can't seem to fix her. 
I wonder how long she can keep running like this 
I'm waiting for the day when she gives in and breaks down; her damaged body unable to go anymore.
I imagine a black tow truck arriving when it finally happens. 
The drivers will look at her and say, "what a shame...
          She was a real beauty"

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Keepin' It Real...

My foundation is cracking and I'm trying to prevent myself from falling into one of the gaping holes that lead to the abyss.
I am not an inspiration.
I am not the chick with cancer leading the marches or rallying the troops.
I am just trying to stay alive and making my time here memorable.
I'm hoping the good memories I am creating will wipe out any bad ones the people I love have of me.
I want to forgive and be forgiven
I want to rise above these feelings of rage and helplessness.
But I find myself dropping to my knees and pounding the ground beneath me with angry fists.
I have cried out "why" to whomever might be listening up there
Maybe I'll get the answer one day. Or not.
I've realized we have control over very little in life.
I've learned that the love I have for my son is stronger and multiplies 10,000x faster than any cancer cell could ever dream of.
May that love wash over him and heal him whenever he needs it.
I know I am not alone
I feel the presence of loved ones, past and present, with me at all times.
I have chosen wisely in the friends department.
They write things like this to me:
"You have so many people who beyond love you and you are such a love in so many people's lives; it's amazing! Any one of us will be your glue anytime to hold you together or stand by you when you fall to pieces just to make sure those pieces don't fall too far. "
I am loved
I am human
I am a fucking mess, at times
But I am always real
And I am still here...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

When The Universe Has Other Plans...

Fuck. That was the first word to enter my mind when I was told the cancer was back. Fuck. I know what this means. It's aggressive; far more aggressive than we imagined. I'm running out of drugs and out of options. Fuck indeed.

I sobbed yesterday all over Midtown. Big, fat tears fell over anything in my path. Blood red eyes, tear streaked face, runny nose. A mess in every sense of the word. Funny thing is, I don't feel sick. When I was first diagnosed, I knew something was wrong. Now, I feel great and this makes me nervous. Soon, will I not be able to breathe without assistance? I don't want to go down like that. But, do I have a choice? I told Joe yesterday that we need to see our lawyer. I need to set up a living will. By no means do I want to be on a respirator or revived. When it ends, let it end. I'm 37. I don't want to think about these things but I know I have to so no one else is forced to make that decision. 

Sean kept calling yesterday to see how the test went. For the first time ever, I lied to him. I said we hadn't spoken to the doctor yet. I couldn't bear to tell him over the phone. I couldn't bear to tell him at all actually. Jesus fucking Christ he is only 17. Every fiber of my being was aching for him. My baby, my boy. This will stay with him for the rest of his life. Sean. I'm sorry I couldn't make this go away. Please know how hard I tried. 

So now I return to the world of the unknown; except I kind of know. I know this is a battle I may not win but I will give it all I have. Thanks to everyone for their support and their love. It is everything to me. 

Let go of anger. Hold your children tighter. Tell them you love them every day of their lives.  Dance your ass off. Appreciate the beauty of the world around you. Connect. Connect. Connect. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Weight of Waiting

It's circled in red on my calendar.

Scan day is coming up. Will the time come when I longer dread this day? When it becomes something as innocuous as a dental appointment?

I doubt it. But, I hope so. I really hope so.

My doctor's visit is always scheduled a few days after the scan. This gives my oncologist time to examine the results. For me, though, it is a waiting game. Every time my phones rings, I jump. Is it her office asking me to come in earlier? If I don't hear from her this surely must be a sign that everything is fine. Then why does my entire body shake while I wait for her to walk into her office? 

Every three months. 

The fear of reccurence intensifies the closer I get to scan day. Will my body betray me again? Will I have to endure the pain and anguish again? I erase these thoughts from my mind and remember what my doctor told me. "Focus on what you know to be true." What I know to be true at this moment is that I feel great; I feel healthy. If my scan tells me otherwise, I will deal with it. I don't have a choice over the results; only my response to them. I pray they still show no evidence of disease. I've already started to get the neck spasm that occurs when my body is tense for too long. I need to meditate. I need to practice my yoga. I need for it to be next week already. I need this weight to be lifted.

Whatever I am told, I will continue to live a life of profound gratitude for all I have learned in the last year and a half. How many people get the chance to truly live? To wake up everyday with a sure sense of their place in the world? How lucky am I?

 I am here. I am living. I AM ALIVE.